In the late 1980s, I wrote several books for the National Academy Press in Washington, D.C., which are now all out of print. After a decade spent doing other things (working in the White House science office as a speechwriter, running an op-ed service, raising children), I wrote Mapping Human History: Genes, Race, and Our Common Origins, which was nominated for the 2002 National Book Award, won the Science-in-Society Award from the National Association of Science Writers, and was named a best science book of 2002 by Discover magazine. A couple of years later I published the book Count Down: Six Kids Vie for Glory at the World’s Toughest Mathematics Competition, which was named a best science book of 2004 by Discover magazine. I wrote the book Anarchy Evolution: Faith, Science, and Bad Religion in a World Without God with Greg Graffin, an evolutionary biologist from Cornell and the co-founder and lead singer of the punk band Bad Religion.  My most recent book  is Eruption: The Untold Story of Mount St. Helens, which was named one of the 20 best nonfiction books of 2016 by Amazon, received a starred review in Kirkus, and was an Indie Next selection.

Mapping Human History

Mapping Human History uses the genetic differences found in people today to reconstruct the last 150,000 years of human history. By revealing the biological roots of our similarities and differences, it offers new ways of thinking about race, ethnicity, ancestry, and language.

Mapping Human History

Mapping Human History

Reviewers’ Comments

“Noteworthy and valuable. . . . Olson does an admirable job of presenting an up-to-date, consensus view of what genetics tells us about who we are and how we got here as a species.” — Science

“[Olson’s] ideas are compelling, his research staggering, and his conclusion reinforces a belief in human equality.” Christian Science Monitor

“The most balanced, accessible, and up-to-date survey of the field. . . . Olson is going to be a hard act to follow.” — New Scientist

“An entertaining introduction to the ways in which genetics can illustrate human prehistory. . . . Olson’s is a steady hand to help guide us.” — Sunday Telegraph

“An important and engrossing tale.” — Guardian

“An excellent job of balancing scientific content with journalistic spice.” — American Journal of Human Genetics

“An engaging and fast-paced look at a subject that has profound implications for our everyday lives.” — Publishers Weekly

Count Down

Count Down: Six Kids Vie for Glory at the World’s Toughest Mathematics Competition is a narrative account of the 2001 International Mathematical Olympiad, which was held at George Mason University just outside Washington, D.C. It follows the six members of the U.S. team, their coach, and their guide (who was a team member several years ago), describing the qualities that led the Olympians to be among the best high-school-aged mathematical problem solvers in the world. More broadly, Count Down explores the following question: How does anyone learn how to do something extremely well?

Count Down

Count Down

Reviewers’ Comments

“Math, meet your savior. . . . Olson finds a way to make the intricacies of higher mathematics palatable to all.” — New York Post

“[Count Down] ought to be read by anyone living in a technological society. . . . By the end of this satisfying little book, the reader will likely suspect that he or she has untapped cognitive potential.” — Washington Post

“Engaging.” — The New Yorker

“Easily the most levelheaded treatment of a high-stakes competition I’ve ever read. . . . An engrossing contemplation of the concept of genius.” — Seattle Weekly

“A fine and thoughtful book.” — Notices of the American Mathematical Society

“Uplifting.” — Publishers Weekly

“It makes for a great read (seriously).” Elle Girl

“Olson captures the personalities of these young geniuses and shows that they are more complex, more interesting, and more fun than stereotypes suggest. . . . Thoroughly engaging reading.” — Library Journal

Count Down is only partly about math. It’s mostly about motivation, talent, and creativity. . . . Highly readable and thought-provoking.” — Detroit Free Press

Anarchy Evolution

Anarchy Evolution, which is a book about Greg Graffin’s life and our shared perspectives on the world, was the first book I wrote with someone else, and it turned out to be a great experience.  Greg wrote an accurate and gracious description of ouir collaboration in the Acknowledgments.  “As we began the process of putting together my ideas for Anarchy Evolution, Steve had some worries that came out only after the projet was complete.  He had never coauthored a book, but he had read a lot about other collaborators who had mightmarish experiences with similar projects.  The ease with which Anarchy Evolution came together, however, shocked both of us.  There were no snags, no hold-ups, no arguments.  Each chapter went through several iterations without a hitch.”

Reviewers’ Comments

“Humble, challenging, and inspiring…. For Graffin, the appeal of both worlds was that, at their best, they challenged authority, dogma and given truths and opened up space for the anarchic process of creativity.” — Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Take one man who rejects authority and religion, and leads a punk band. Take another man who wonders whether vertebrates arose in rivers or in the ocean, is fascinated by evolution, creativity, and Ice Age animals. Put them together, what do you get? Greg Graffin, and this uniquely fascinating book.” –Jared Diamond, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Guns, Germs, and Steel and Collapse

“A worldview eloquently expressed.” — Chicago Tribune

“Bucking authority and the religious views of his family, Graffin explains how he has developed a personal philosophy that celebrates the power of nature.” —Nature

“More than an autobiography, Anarchy Evolution is ultimately a subtle call to arms to embrace a rationalistic perspective on life, one that can be every bit as fulfilling as what religion and belief in god are said to offer followers of religious faiths.” — Skeptic